Regardless of the size or industry of an organization, one of the most effective ways to discover infrastructure vulnerabilities and prevent possible cyber threats is to rely on the expertise of both red teams and blue teams. Performing red team vs. blue team exercises can be a startling experience. Whether they are assessing an organization’s cybersecurity defenses against threats or evaluating the talent of security team members, red team vs. blue team exercises can be beneficial for organizations of all industries and sizes.
A red team conducts penetration tests and vulnerability assessments, while a blue team reacts and responds to incidents while upholding the organization’s defences. Despite their differences, however, it is important to remember that red teams and blue teams share a common goal, which is to improve the security of an organization’s infrastructure and systems. The red team is considered the “offence” and the blue team, the “defence.”
More recently, the concept of “purple team” has been introduced to the equation. Prior to delving into the purpose and function of the purple team, we will review the tasks and priorities of the red team and the blue team.
As mentioned, red teams and blue teams share a common goal – to improve the security of an organization. Where they differ, is in their approach and their positioning.
Red teams position themselves akin to the attacker. Ultimately, it’s their positioning that allows them to test an organization’s defences. The red teams’ position allows them to use complex methodologies in their attempt to break into systems, identify vulnerabilities within the security of the infrastructure, launch exploits, and communicate their findings. Most often, red teams are a third-party collective of offensive security professionals, penetration testers, who are hired by an organization to assess the organization’s security across people, processes and technologies.
Red teams use real-world cyber-attack methods to identify weaknesses in a company’s people, processes and technologies. The red team aims to evade in-place defense mechanisms with the intention to penetrate corporate networks and simulate a data breach, all without being detected by the organizations’ blue team.
Typical red team techniques include:
Social Engineering, including Phishing.
Physical Security Assessments, including tailgating and card cloning.
Over the course of a red team engagement, penetration testers are authorized to simulate attack scenarios that allow them to reveal potential physical, hardware, software and human vulnerabilities. Red team engagements also identify openings for external and internal threat actors to compromise an organization’s systems and networks or allow data breaches, respectively. As red teams aim to break and evade defences put in place by blue teams, during the course of testing, they have little motive to assist the blue team. This is by design and essential to the testing process despite each teams’ common goal of improving organizational security.
Following testing, red team members write up reports, including details such as exploit methodology, discovered vulnerabilities and remediation methods. The ultimate goal of the report is to aid blue teams in understanding where security gaps, how in-place defenses failed and recommendations for remediation.
In contrast, the blue team is responsible for regularly analyzing an organizations’ systems, identify vulnerabilities, and assess the efficacy of all in-place security tools, procedures and policies. Blue teams assess, develop and remediate defensive measures to counter the activities of the red team, and of course, true threat actors. In addition, they need to remain current and well-informed on potential threats and attack methods, to improve defense mechanisms and incident response.
The blue team is also responsible for assessing and addressing the human element. Staying up to date with the latest phishing and social engineering scams is also essential for blue teams’ ability to effectively design security awareness trainings and put end-user policies, including password policies, in force.
Typical Blue Team Responsibilities Include:
Security Monitoring (Networks, systems and devices)
Conducting Internal and External Vulnerability Scans
Create, Configure and Enforce Firewall Rules
Keep All Enterprise Software Patched and Current
Reverse Engineering Cyber Attack Scenarios
Deploy endpoint Detection and Response Systems
Develop Remediation Policies to Return Systems to Normal Operating, Post-breach
As part of their duty, blue teams report their findings to senior management as risks are found to determine if a risk is to accepted and assumed or if new changes should be made to policies and/or controls to mitigate it. Just as in the case of red teams, upon completion of a security exercise, blue teams gather evidence and write reports on their findings, including a list of remediation tasks to completed.
Before delving into the concept of a purple team, it is important to recognize that the term “purple team” is deceiving. The purple team is not a distinct team, but rather an amalgamation, or blend, of red team members and blue team members. The purple team is designed as a feedback loop between the red and blue teams, benefiting from subtle nuances in their approach to be more effective. As mentioned, the purple team doesn’t so much represent a separate team, instead, it’s more of a combined methodology amongst blue and red teams. Think of it as a cybersecurity approach that allows both teams to share security data, in real-time feedback, in order to inspire a superior security posture.
This approach helps to develop and improve both teams. The blue team becomes more informed about how to prioritize, measure and improve their ability to detect and defend against threats and attacks, and the red team gains industry insight into technologies and mechanisms used in defense.
Benefits of Purple Teaming
As described, the objective for both red and blue teams is to bolster an organization’s security, just as it’s the organization’s goal to promote cybersecurity awareness. With purple teaming, the first objective is clear, regular communication between red and blue teams, a constant flow of information and symbiotic effort. This exercise, recommend to be performed at least annually and whenever significant changes have been made, between the two teams, facilitates constant communication and collaboration between and among individual teams, promoting constant improvements in the organization’s cybersecurity culture.
Often, a breach can occur with the attacker evading all defenses, without any awareness or detection from the blue team. Due to the constant state of change in cybersecurity, this does not always indicate a lack of skill or technology on the blue team, but rather the increasing complexity of threat actors’ methods and/or attack vectors. The concept of ‘purple team’ effectively eliminates this possibility.
Red and blue teams, working together, provide regular and consistent knowledge transfer improving the organization’s ability to thwart real-life attack scenarios. In the end, the red team will improve the organization’s vulnerability management processes, and the blue team learns to get into the attackers’ mindset, thus purple teaming allows for the development of better incident response programs and vulnerability detection processes.
The last benefit we’ll touch on is also the important benefit, and that is a healthier security posture for your organization. By making use of purple teams’ constant communication, annual penetration testing, vulnerability management and development of improved security infrastructure and policies, organizations put their best foot forward against the threat of a data breach.
Working with our penetration testing team ensures your organization is equipped with ongoing support to ensure your business, and your security team, never feels left behind. In addition to close touch communication with our testers, throughout the process of the engagement, after delivering our reports, we ensure our clients’ security team and executives fully grasp the findings, their business impacts and remediation effort.
For the team at Packetlabs, it is not our intention to provide a one-time service; we build relationships with each client so, together, we can ensure a more secure tomorrow. If you would like assistance learning more about the team at Packetlabs, and our services, please contact us today to get started! At Packetlabs, penetration testing and red team exercises is all we do, and we take it very seriously. Regardless of the size or industry, we’re here to help.